Sunday, 3 March 2013

Heaven in a Bowl: Thai Chicken Noodle Soup (Khao Soi)'

March 2, 2013

SmartCooks here.  

Winter doldrums, winter blahs, seasonal affect disorder ... whatever.  Time to wake up the senses.  This weekend, I found myself browsing through Bon Appetit's selection of exotic soup recipes.  I came across a Thai version of 'Chicken Noodle Soup' called 'Chicken Khao Soi' (their photo at right) and decided to give it a whirl.  It was exactly right for a Saturday night, one-bowl, meal. 

Khao Soi is a well-known curry noodle dish from the northern part of Thailand, from a city called Chiang Mai.  From my research, it seems to have originated in Burma.  it is often made with chicken but can be made vegetarian using tofu.  The dish is strong but not too hot; each taste blends together into a delicious bowl of soul-satisfying soup.  The 'authentic' dish is served with crunchy, fried, Chinese noodles on top, but 'crunchy' toppings vary in many recipes ... from fried onions, shallots, red onions, fried whole chilies, to roasted peanuts, depending on personal preference.   

Bali, Thailand in April tbd 

The soup didn't quite banish all the winter doldrums. I am intrigued by Thailand and have been for some time.  In fact, there's a yoga retreat there in late April in Bali. I'm semi-considering it.  I haven't had a holiday in years or been overseas much.  Of course, even though I am way more travel hardened now by my weekly air commutes, I'm still wary of an overseas jaunt.  Plus, the weather is usually quite humid at that time of year.  Yet, still, I continue to ponder something completely different like this.... although if I intend to try it I better act quickly as I suspect it will be sold out shortly.  

Guajillo Chiles 

Anyway, back to Chicken Khao Soi.  It takes about an hour to assemble which is why it was a good Saturday night choice.  There are endless variations for ingredients to go into the soup.  I've given some 'OR's below.  For example, I made it with more broth than coconut milk and the coconut milk I used was a premium, organic, lite coconut milk which is easy to find now in Ottawa.  

Finding dried guajillo chiles was challenging.  I couldn't find them at my go-to Herb and Spice store so ended up using dried red chiles I had in the cupboard.  They worked just fine.  I suspect if I had looked a bit harder, I would have found them as guajillos are one of the most popular chiles in Mexico, second only to the Ancho chili and to the Jalapeno.  Guajillo chiles are grown in the drier climate of north central Mexico, are usually dried and used in hot sauces.  Digging a little further, I found that guajillo, ancho, and pasilla (sometimes called chile negro) together are referred to as the 'Holy Trinity of Chiles'.  The things you learn...

I also used a wider noodle (Pappardelle) instead of the Chinese egg noodle and it too worked fine. For toppings, I chose a combo of red onion, fried onion, cilantro, and lime wedges and they were all delicious.  

Heaven in a Bowl Chicken Khao Soi


Khao Soi Paste
4 large dried guajillo chilies, stemmed, halved, seeded OR substitute dried red chilies 
2 medium shallots, halved
8 garlic cloves
1 2-in piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup cilantro stems
1 T ground coriander
1 T ground turmeric 
1 T curry powder (I used medium curry powder) OR 2 T Red Curry Paste 

2 T vegetable oil (I used canola) 
2 14-ounce cans unsweetened coconut milk (I used one lite; 1 premium, both organic) 
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth OR substitute water or vegetable broth 
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, halved lengthwise (I used organic, boneless chicken breasts) 
1 pound Chinese egg noodles (or substitute a thicker noodle) 
3 T fish sauce 
1 T (packed) palm sugar or light brown sugar
Kosher salt

Condiments for serving:
Any of:  sliced red onion, bean sprouts, cilantro sprigs, crispy fried onions, crispy fried Chinese noodles, shallots, chili oil, Sriracha, roasted peanuts, lime wedges 


First, make the khao soi paste.  Place chilies in a bowl, add boiling water and soak for 25-30 minutes until softened. Drain chilies, reserving the liquid.  Purée chilies, shallots, garlic, ginger, cilantro stems, coriander, turmeric, curry powder, and 2 tablespoons soaking liquid in a food processor, adding more soaking liquid by tablespoonfuls, if needed, until smooth.  I ended up adding almost all the liquid in order to get a smooth, colourful paste.

Then, make the noodles, drain and leave in pot until soup is ready.

Finally, make the soup.  Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add khao soi paste; cook, stirring constantly, until slightly darkened, 4-6 minutes. Add coconut milk and broth. Bring to a boil; add chicken. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is fork-tender, 20-25 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate. Let cool slightly; shred meat.

Put the shredded chicken, 2 T fish sauce, and sugar into the soup. Season with salt or more fish sauce, if needed. 

Finally, assemble the bowls.  Put the noodles in each bowl, add the broth and chicken.  Top with condiments of choice.  

Finally, a word about 'fried noodles'

The traditional crispy topping for Chicken Khao Soi is done with Chinese egg noodles.  To crisp the noodles, take 1 cup and fluff them up until the strands are separated.  Fry a little at a time in a pan with very hot oil until the noodles are golden.  Flip once to get the same colour on the other side.  Set aside to use as the topping.

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